Vincent James honored for helping launch common application for public health schools

Vincent James

December 18, 2015 — A dozen years ago, Vincent James played a key role in helping launch a national project allowing students to apply to multiple schools and programs of public health online, using one application. Now he’s been recognized for his efforts by the organization he helped shape—the Schools of Public Health Application Service, or SOPHAS—with a 2015 SOPHAS Hero Award.

James, who has been admissions director at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for 15 years, received the award at the American Public Health Association annual meeting in Chicago in November.

Before SOPHAS, James recalled, each fall he and his colleagues in the admissions office would go through bin after bin of mail, sorting hundreds of transcripts and recommendations into folders for each applicant. “Everyone was working over the holiday break,” he said. “It was stressful handling all of that paper.”

It wasn’t easy for students, either; before SOPHAS, they had to complete separate applications for each public health school or program they applied to, a time-consuming task.

When members of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health began thinking about using a common online application, Harvard was one of the first schools they approached to explore the possibility. James worked closely with the vendor, Liaison International, to help shape the new initiative. He provided initial advice and helped test it for ease of use, both for students and admissions officers. After about a year and a half, when the system launched, Harvard was at first the only top-tier public health school to use it. “A lot of people thought we were kind of crazy to get involved with this,” he said. “But I really saw the need to move to this platform.”

Over the years, James served on an advisory committee with colleagues from other schools of public health to continue providing feedback on how to refine and improve the system. He also conducted site visits at other schools and programs to help get them on board.

Today, most schools and programs of public health use the SOPHAS system.

“The recognition was a complete surprise,” James said. “While the whole process was certainly a team effort, I appreciated being recognized for my contribution and my enthusiasm for SOPHAS.”

Karen Feldscher

photo: Noah Leavitt